The Filipino’s love of dance is inextricably linked to festivals. In the Philippines, these are called ‘Fiestas’ and there are lots of them!
Fiestas are part of Filipino culture whether times are good or bad. Each city, town and barrio has at least one local festival it calls own – usually to commemo rate an historical event like the Ati-atihan or a patron (Roman Catholic) saint. With membership of hundreds of saints found in the rolls of St. Peter’s in the Vatican City, there’s no excuse not to have a fiesta event somewhere in the Philip pines.
So just how rich and varied is the repository of cultural and ethnic dance tra ditions of Filipinos? One might well be surprised. Here’s just a partial list:
Ati-Atihan – The Ati-atihan dance festivals are one of the oldest in the Philip pines. It is believed to have started in 1212 AD, after the arrival of several Malay chieftains and their retinue from Borneo who were granted settlement by the Ati – the indigenous people of Panay Island. It is a colourful cultural happening with celebrants who paint their faces in many different ways and are dressed in the most exceptional and outlandish of costumes.
Dancing to an incessant rhythm of drumbeats along streets makes this annual festival compar able with carnival in Rio in Brazil! The Ati-atihan has evolved to incorporate various cultures of peo ple who have inhabited the Philippines through the centuries. It carries a feeling of the exotic and the familiar at the same time. It is marked by the beat of drums that are rhythmic and intoxicating. This is not a festival for sitting back and watching, but rather one for getting amidst it all and getting carried away by whistles, beat of the drums and repeated shouts of “Hala Bira!’ or ‘let’s get it on!’.
Banga – Banga or pot dance is a contemporary performance of the Kalinga Tribe of the Mountain Province in the Philippines. They are the most ingenious rice farmers of the Cordillera people are one of the extensive terrace builders in the country. The Kalingas are also skilled potters as they are in basketry, loom weaving and metal works. This dance illustrate the languid grace of a tribe other wise known as fierce warriors. Heavy earthen pots, as many as 7 or 8 at a time, are balanced on the heads of maidens as they trudge to the beat of the “gangsa” or wind chimes displaying their stamina and strength as they go about their daily task of fetching water.
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The Bayanihan Folk Dance Company
With All Its Splendour
It has been observed that a good number of Filipinos living abroad don’t seem to appreciate Philippine History. Maybe it’s the way it is taught or presented to the public. Perhaps – at least for Filipinos in New Zealand, it is now time to teach their children and the world, the fabu lously rich and colourful history of the Philippines through dance and song that contain insightful vignettes of their heri tage, culture and identity brought to the performing stage.
NOTE: The word ‘Sayaw’ is a Cebuano term for the English word ‘dance’ which has been incorporated into the national language of the Philippines called ‘Pilipino’. In its proper context, the word Sayaw is generally understood to mean a social gathering for dancing.
Banog – In this dance of the Cordillera which straddles the contiguous moun tain provinces of the island of Luzon, performers portray hunters shielding their chickens from a famished hawk. The hawk ends up entrapped and dies in the hands of hunters. The word ‘Cordillera’ is the name given by the Spanish Con quistadors when they first saw the mountain ranges. Meaning “knotted rope”, the Spanish term refers to the jumbled rolls and dips of this long-range traversing the northern part of Luzon Island.
Bendayan – This highland dance from Benguet Province better known as Bendian, originates from the Ibaloi Tribe. It is performed for many reasons including healing an illness, to seek relief following calamities like drought and famine, and to celebrate a bountiful harvest. In the past, the biggest dance events were staged to celebrate a victory in war. Bendian festivals celebrated by the Ibaloi and related tribes like the Kankanay are always big and extraordinary. It involves circling around villages dancing and executing various arm movements that last the wee hours of day.
Binasuan – Originating in Pangasinan Province and meaning “with the use of drinking glasses”, this vibrant dance basically shows off balancing skill of the performers. Glasses filled with rice wine are placed on the head and on each hand carefully maneuvered with graceful movements. This dance is common in wed dings, fiestas and special occasions.
Binaylan – This a ritual dance the Province of Agusan originates from the Bagobo tribe living in the central uplands of the island of Mindanao. It imitates the movements of a hen and her ‘banog’ or baby chicks, which have caught the eye of a hawk. The hawk is sacred and is believed that it has the power over the well-being of the tribe. The hawk tries to capture one of the baby chicks and, as a result, is slayed by hunters.
Burung-Talo – From Sulu Province comes this unique fighting dance of the Tausūg (or Suluk) Tribe who are experienced sailors known for their colourful boats called ‘vintas’. They are superb warriors as they are craftsmen who are related to kin who live in Sabah Malaysia who were under the Sultan of Sulu in the Philippines. The Burong Talo demonstrates a fierce skirmish between a hawk and a cat. With their acrobatic movements and tough facial expressions, the dance performance is punctuated with energetic beat of drums and gongs.
Cariñosa – ‘Cariñosa‘ is a Spanish word that des cribes an affectionate, friendly and lovable wo man.
It is also the name given to a popular folk dance that was introduced to the country by the Span iards when they arrived in the 16th century. Today, it belongs to the ‘Maria Clara’ suite of Philippine folk dances. These are so named in honour of Maria Clara – the main character in Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere, (‘Touch Me Not’), about the colon isation of the Philippines by the Spanish. In it, Maria Clara is portrayed as a noble and loyal woman, who after the publication of the novel in the 19th century became the female symbol of virtue for Filipino women.
To perform the Cariñosa, a man and a woman dance together, taking slow steps around the room, similar to those of a waltz. The female holds a fan or hand kerchief used gracefully, which she coyly hides behind. The dance itself is intended as a courtship dance, and is of a flirtatious nature. Cariñosa literally means “she that is loving” as the verb ending indicates it refers to a woman.
Dinuyya – This Ifugao (Cordillera region) dance is regularly staged during fes tivals in Lagawe. Three kinds of gong instruments such as, ordinary gongs, tobtob – a brass gong played by beating with open palms and hibat – a kind of gong played by beating the inner surface with a softwood are used in this dance.
Dugso – A dance of thanksgiving from the Talaindig tribe of Bukidnon Province in the high plateau region of northern Mindanao also known by that name.
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A Fabulously Rich Heritage
Dynamic Fusion of Styles
The list of Philippine folk dances is longer than thought. We merely list a handful of the more popular ones. To appreciate the gorgeous folkloric traditions of the Philippines is to understand the dynamic fusion of different influences from Spain, India, China, Japan, Arabia and a multi tude of its original indigenous tribes on the Philippines’ “Mestizaje”. The virtues of this fusion can be seen in all Philippine dances generally accepted as being classi fied under four main groups.
NOTE: The four main groups of dance in the Philippines are the Los Bailes Criollos (the creole dances) that directly descend from the Spanish Peninsula and New Spain (Mexico) but were later indigenized; Los Bailes Urbanos (dances from the big cabeceras and ciudades or urbanized centres); Los Bailes Municipales y Rurales (rural dances); and the pre-Hispanic dances called danzas tribales (tribal dances). The word “Mestizaje” is kindred to another word Filipinos all know in the Archipelago as “Mestizo” or one who is of mixed racial heritage. However, the underlying meaning of “Mestizaje” is akin more to words such as “fusion”, “unity”, “a dynamic step forward”.
Gayong-gayong – Another Filipino-Muslim inspired dance from Capiz. In rural gatherings, this dance offers much fun because it relates the story of a man called ‘Masiong’ (the pet name for Dalmacio) who once attended a feast commemo rating the death of a prominent townsman. While eating, Masiong choked on a piece of Adobo (a meat-based delicacy) so he called on his friend, ‘Gayong ! Gayong !’ (the pet name for Leodegario) asking for help to dislodge it from his throat. In this dance, Masiong’s liking for feasts and the consequence of his gluttony are held up to playful ridicule.
Idudu – A tribal dance from Abra Province in the Cordilleras, this dance stages a common family life in the Itneg or Tinguian society. It illustrates the family as the main foundation of the tribe’s community. Several traits of an ordinary family are shown. It depicts a father plowing the field while the mother caring for the children. But as soon as the father finishes work, the mother takes over on planting, sowing and all the remaining chores to do in the field. At this time the father is left to take care of the kids. During the dance a local singer breaks into an ‘idudu‘ or lullaby to put the baby to sleep. The Idudu dance obviously portrays the different roles in a Tinguian family.
Itik-itik – According to some historical accounts, a young woman named ‘Kanang’ (short for Cayetana) happened to be the best dancer in the province of Surigao del Norte. At one baptismal reception, she was asked to dance the Sibay, and began improvising her steps in the middle of her performance imitating the movements of an ‘itik’ or duck, as it walks in the shallows of a pond splashing water on its back while attracting its mate.
Kadal-Blelah – A South Cotabato tribal dance of the T’boli Tribe in Southern Mindanao whose performers simulate the hopping movements and flying behaviour of the Tahaw bird. It is performed to celebrate results of a good harvest.
The T’boli are an upland hill-dwelling people who developed a very rich culture founded on tribal traditions and in harmony with nature around them. Their culture is richly connected with and inspired by nature; their dances are a mimic from the action of animals which dwell in their ancestral lands.
These tribal people have a rich musical culture with a variety of musical ins truments, but their music and songs are not meant for entertainment only. Their songs are a living contact with their ancestors and a source of ancient wisdom. They believe that everything has a spirit which must be respected for good fortune and that bad spirits can cause illness and misfortune.
Like other tribes living in similar fashion to theirs, the T’boli have remained essentially untouched by western influences until recently and are today trying to cope with a rapidly changing lifestyle.
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Sambi sa Malong
Walking Through A Dream
The Maranao are known for their mysti cism, royalty, and beauty all evident in their music and dances. They utilise things taken for granted and convert them into high art. For example, study this tantric dance rendition of the mun dane malong – a tubular piece of cloth used as a skirt, shawl, or mantle, as it is transformed reverently, almost ritualist ically into a display of the many ways one can use it to adorn a body. It is decept ively hypnotic as in a dream.
The malong is traditionally used as a garment by numerous tribes populating some parts of the large island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago in Southern Philip pines. It is a traditionally hand woven multi-coloured cotton cloth, bearing a variety of ancestral geometric okir designs akin to the sarong worn by peoples in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia – the ethnically related descendants of early Austronesian in habitants of the Philippines whose descendants eventually fanned out to most parts of Southeast Asia and the rest of the Pacific.
Kappa Malong-Malong – An exquisitely solemn Filpino-Muslim dance from the Maranao tribe of Mindanao. It is performed with women wearing malongs, shawl and mantles (head pieces). Alternately, the men wear sashes (waist bands), bahag (shorts) and turbans for headgear that are traditionally worn in the fields. Also called Sambi sa Malong, the dance portrays the many ways of wearing a malong, a simple tubular yet highly-functional piece of cloth. The traditional women’s version shows this cloth of countless colorful designs; used mostly as a skirt, woven in many different ways, depending on the purpose of the wearer.
Karatong – A Filipino-Muslim inspired dance. During the festival of San Agus tine also in the island of Cuyo, the celebrations also include the blossoming of mango trees. The parade starts from the church patio and ends at the town plaza with ladies waving their colorful props of ’Bunga mangga’ that symbolize the flowers of mango tree, while men lively strike their karatong instruments; creat ing a scene of joy among reveling towns folk.
Kuratsa – Commonly performed during festivals in Bohol and other Visayan towns in Central Philippines, Kuratsa portrays a young playful couple’s attempt to attract each other’s attention. It is performed in a moderate waltz style.
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